This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Cecilia Dowd, Candice Ferrette, David Reich-Hale, Craig Schneider and John Valenti. It was written by Brodsky.
For the second consecutive day, the state's COVID-19 positivity rate hit its highest point Tuesday since the height of the crisis in late May, with hospitalizations and deaths from the virus continuing to rise across the region, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.
The upward trend on infections, which reached a seven-day average of more than 3% in New York City, spurred Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce that public schools would close in the five boroughs, starting Thursday.
The statewide positivity rate Tuesday was 3.43% while 2,202 patients are hospitalized with the virus, including 423 in intensive care, while 35 people died from COVID-19, Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany.
Long Island's positivity rate for new infections was 3.6%, with two deaths in Nassau and another in Suffolk, according to state figures
But Cuomo said the state is still performing well compared with the rest of the country, where its infection rate ranks behind only Vermont, Hawaii and Maine.
"Let's talk facts," Cuomo said as he sparred with reporters about the closure of the city school system. "The whole world is going up. Every state in the nation is going up. So success becomes how you're doing relative to everybody else."
The governor expressed concern that New York could enter a rough period in the coming weeks. Cuomo said he expects a "tremendous spike after Thanksgiving" because of large indoor gatherings.
"You know what love is on Thanksgiving?" Cuomo said. "'I love you so much and I’m so thankful for you that I’m not going to see you.'"
Cuomo on Wednesday also joined with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts in encouraging residential universities to provide testing for all students traveling home for Thanksgiving break.
Any student who tests positive will be encouraged to isolate on campus before they can travel, unless they receive approval from their local department of health, according to the guidance. Students quarantining on campus must remain in place until completing their required seclusion.
The governors are "strongly recommending" colleges finish the fall semesters by expanding remote instruction, enabling students to learn from home between Thanksgiving and winter break, rather than requiring them to travel back to campus and then home again in December. Universities that reopen for in-person instruction after Thanksgiving should require students to take a COVID test, officials said.
'A defining moment'
On Long Island, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran Wednesday said the rate of positive cases, hospitalizations and seriously ill patients continues to rise as "people are worried about what we are going to do for the winter."
She said 3.5% of those tested were positive, while the seven-day rolling average is 3%. Nassau reported 397 new virus cases Tuesday. There are 147 patients hospitalized, including 26 in intensive care, she said.
"These are the highest numbers we’ve seen since we began reopening in May," Curran said. "We are not immune to the unprecedented surge we are seeing nationally. … This really is a defining moment for us."
However, officials continued to support keeping the county's schools open.
Students attending in-person classes have not proved to be major vectors for the coronavirus, said Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein.
"The school itself is not the transmitting factor," said Eisenstein, adding that community spread is more often occurring at parties, family gatherings and with young adults interacting without masks.
Robert Dillon, superintendent of Nassau BOCES, said 106 schools have had to close and 22 schools have gone fully remote.
"All of us have to remain vigilant when not in school," Dillon said. "We all function better when our schools are open."
Suffolk reported 430 new cases Tuesday. The county's infection rate is 3.8% with a seven-day average of 3.4%, according to county figures. There are 103 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Suffolk, including 22 in intensive care, the data shows.
East Islip Middle School will be on remote instruction through Dec. 1 due to seven COVID-19 cases among the staff, according to a notice posted by the East Islip School District website.
The Town of Islip Wednesday partnered with Good Samaritan Hospital to open a free testing site in Brentwood, which has seen a significant rise in new cases. The Brentwood Recreation Center will offer tests by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"Don't let yourself or your family become a statistic," Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said.
Inmate visits suspended in Suffolk
All inmate visits at the Suffolk Correctional Facility will be suspended, beginning late-Saturday, to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak, Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. announced Wednesday. And beginning Wednesday, all "non-county service providers" will revert to remote visitation with inmate clients.
Lawyers will be allowed only booth visits unless requested ahead of time by the attorney. All attorneys must show proof of a negative test before entry. They will be subject to an on-site temperature screening and must wear a mask at all times.
The announcement comes days after the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow suspended all jail visits due to the recent nationwide increase in coronavirus cases.
Two Suffolk inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 while incarcerated, Toulon said, and "only about two dozen" correction officers and deputies have come down with COVID-19.
"We are not out of the woods yet," Toulon said in a statement. "As this new wave of infection spreads in Suffolk County, we need to ramp up our efforts to keep it out of the correctional facilities, where social distancing is difficult."
Northwell has 'concerning' increase in patients
Northwell Health on Wednesday said it had 299 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, up from 219 during the same period a week ago.
The increase is "concerning, especially since this rise is taking place before Thanksgiving," said Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer at the largest health system in the state.
He said the general public has pandemic fatigue, and that could be leading to less social distancing and mask wearing.
Northwell said it had 46 COVID-19 admissions over the last 24 hours, about half of which were on Long Island.
"We have to keep reminding people, it's not about you," Jarrett said. "It's about your friends, family and neighbors."